Keep watching the skies. That's the message from a German hacker group which reportedly plans to launch a satellite network to host an alternative Internet in the event of terrestrial disaster.
They also hope to put a hacker on the moon by 2034. Why stop at one?
To be fair, Armin Bauer, Andreas Hornig, and "hadez" (that's what he's called) represent what might be described as the "white hat" hacker community -- purportedly, at least. The "Hacker Space Program" idea sprang from a meeting of Chaos Computer Club. We've met the group before. It's the forum where super-hacker Karsten Nohl reveals the various ways in which telecommunications traffic can be breached. The Club also uncovered illegal attempts at computer surveillance by the German government.
These hackers, in other words, are not necessarily evil. But a hacker space network might still be a bad idea.
The plan does not actually involve shooting rockets. Rather, it envisions a "Hackerspace Global Grid" which will enable better tracking of amateur satellites, typically launched by balloon. According to Bauer, the plan reverses standard GPS technology:
GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are. We would use GPS co-ordinates but also improve on them by using fixed sites in precisely-known locations.
One of the ostensible aims of the scheme is to put in place a network which could function in the event of natural or economic disaster befalling the earthbound Internet. Another aim, however -- and one suspects it's close to the hacktivists' hearts -- is to establish a network which is in principle beyond censorship.
The theory is that the satellites would float beyond the reach of legal jurisdiction. As it happens, it's by no means clear that this is true, with even parts of international airspace governed by international agreements, and no clear legal distinction between airspace and outer space. In practice, there doesn't seem to be much to stop anyone shooting the satellites down.
In any case, if the scheme is viable, we have to ask ourselves how attractive it is. There seems to be no reason the grid would not be used to enable cybercrime, especially piracy, and perhaps even terrorism. Despite justifiable concerns about government interference, the Internet as we know it remains a remarkably unregulated, out-of-control network, to say nothing of the "darknet," which lurks below the surface.
The only reason I can see to welcome a wholesale alternative, reflecting the idealistic libertarian instincts of the Chaos guys, would indeed be the possibility that it might substitute for the World Wide Web if it collapsed. I'm just not sure I have that much faith in little balloons.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution